In between these elaborate, attention-getting hacks were innumerable smaller, less public pranks. For example, in the early 1980s the group kept a working phone line hidden on top of the Lobby 7 dome, from which students could call Mom and Dad. The association evolved into a haven for those dissatisfied with the more conventional student activities.
“After spending several stressful days of being a fish out of water at frat rush events [in the mid-1980s]…I went on an Orange Tour [an illicit nighttime tour of MIT’s rooftops and other verboten places] and saw another world,” says member 221, now an up-and-coming professor at a prestigious West Coast school. “For me, THA was essential for building confidence, getting experience, learning how to lead,” he says.
Today he manages a group of researchers and says the “accelerated project-management training” that hacking provided has “come in handy.”
The association’s best-known hack–the appearance of a campus police (CP) car on top of the Great Dome in 1994–required plenty of project-management skills. Although the Technology Hackers Association generally refuses to claim credit for its hacks, there was no shortage of car-hack participants at the reunion, and they willingly shared their stories.
Jeff Bigler ‘87, ‘88, number 205, revealed he was one of the masterminds behind the hack. “It all started when 248 bought a police light bar [the flashing roof lights on a police car] at a flea market,” he recalls. “We thought, ‘There’s got to be a hack here.’”
It took about two years for the stunt to develop. “Number 249 and some others went to a junkyard and paid a guy $100 to use anything off of an old Chevy Cavalier.” After that, Bigler says, it took about three months to pull the hack off . “We stored the car pieces in the basement of Senior House and would take them to 2-190 to work on a frame.” Did they worry about being discovered in a lecture hall? “No,” replies Bigler. “If anyone came in, they’d see a bunch of kids working on car parts. It wasn’t even all that unusual.”
But the hack itself certainly was, as was the amount of persistence and coordination required to pull it off . It took three attempts to get the car onto the Great Dome. One problem: a two-and-a-half-meter-high concrete barrier encircled the dome, preventing easy access from other areas on the roof.
“Then Dave Krikorian ‘91, number 180, developed wooden rollers to use. After that it went up pretty quickly,” Bigler says. The group knew the hack would draw media attention, but, says Bigler, they weren’t prepared for how much. By 8:00 a.m. the next morning, a large assemblage of photographers and reporters had gathered in Killian Court. Television news networks carried video of the hack, and photos appeared in newspapers around the world. The car itself became an MIT Museum exhibit.